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Macbeth, LA Opera

On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.

English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.



Cast of Show Boat, Lyric Opera of Chicago [Photo by Robert Kusel courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago]
19 Apr 2012

Show Boat at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago has begun with the current season’s production of Show Boat a series of musicals of the American theater to be featured in coming years.

Jerome Kern: Show Boat

Click here for cast and production information.

Above: Cast of Show Boat, Lyric Opera of Chicago

Photos by Robert Kusel courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago


Francesca Zambello applied her directorial talents to the current production and allows Show Boat to speak for itself as a straightforward and entertaining piece of theatrical tradition. Featured cast members include Ashley Brown as Magnolia Hawks, Nathan Gunn as Gaylord Ravenal, Alyson Cambridge as Julie, Angela Renée Simpson as Queenie, Morris Robinson as Joe, Ross Lehmann as Captain Hawks, Cindy Gold as Parthy Ann Hawks, and Ericka Mac as Ellie May Chipley. John DeMain conducted the Lyric Opera Orchestra.

After the overture settled from a brassy start into familiar melodic lines, DeMain highlighted rhythmic shifts to good effect. The “Cotton Blossom” song, named for the riverboat with its staged entertainment, was performed with choral energy yet individual phrases could profit from greater emphasis on diction. The argument between the engineer Pete and the actor Steve, which motivates so much of the subsequent conflict, is convincingly staged. Others members of the ship’s community react immediately to Steve’s dismissal and to the isolation of his wife Julie LaVerne. In the role of the undertalented Ellie May, Ms. Mac sings intentionally off-key and overcompensates charmingly in her attempts to portray an ambitious yet ill-trained replacement for Julie in the ship’s roster of actors.

The arrival of Gaylord Ravenal introduces the second dramatic and emotional twist that will have an effect on the remainder of the piece. It is a role that suits Mr. Gunn’s voice and dramatic talents well. In his first song, “Who cares if my Boat Goes Upstream?” Gunn’s sense of line adds to the carefree swagger of Ravenal’s personality. Here and elsewhere the orchestra could serve the soloist better if taken less forte in its enthusiastic accompaniment. The pivotal duet with Magnolia, “Make Believe,” was performed touchingly by Ms. Brown and Mr. Gunn, as the impression of a naïve yet convincing affection was kindled. When left to consider her thoughts, Magnolia asks Joe the husband of Queenie whether this attraction could be a signal of love. As sung by Mr. Robinson, the response of Joe, “Ol’ Man River,” is one of the highlights of the production. Robinson portrays Joe with dramatic physicality and with fully assured vocal technique. His sonorous bass is rich and full in even the lowest pitches, and his legato matches the rolling pull of the river. When Robinson repeats the song subsequently with male chorus, the effect is equally striking. Magnolia’s second confidante Julie hears next of the budding romance. After the trusting exchange with Magnolia, Ms. Cambridge sang the well-known comment on love, “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man.” Cambridge showed here a firm sense of musical line as it supported the text yet the enunciation of lyrics was overly careful. After Ravenal’s gambling song, performed with spirited determination by Gunn, the remainder of Act I alternates between staffing the showboat’s entertainment and the developing romance of the protagonists.


Because of Mississippi racial laws the marriage of Julie and Pete is questioned, a complication leading to her dismissal as lead in the musical show. Captain Hawks decides that his daughter Magnolia will substitute since she is familiar with the numbers from having attended rehearsals. Almost simultaneously Ellie May performs with female chorus the comment, “Life on the Wicked Stage.” Ms. Mac assured that the number was an exhilarating showstopper with all pitches at this point sung correctly. The love between Magnolia and Ravenal blooms, just as they rehearse the fictional parts of lovers on the stage. Brown and Gunn gave a convincing rendition of “You are Love” as they make plans for their own wedding in keeping with the stage-show’s narrative. As Act I ends, stories about Ravenal’s past do not deter Captain Hawks from supporting the marriage yet his wife Parthy’s reaction hints at domestic difficulties in Act II.

In the second act as arranged for this production the chronological sequence unfolded smoothly. The individual scenes cover a span of several decades in the domestic and emotional lives of Magnolia and Ravenal. Only the first scene taking place at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago gave any indication of the idyllic marriage promised by the lyrical exchange in the first act. The birth of a daughter hardly deters Ravenal from his continued gambling. Indeed one of the most emotionally moving scenes in Act II is Gunn’s departure from his daughter staged in the convent school. The reprise of “Make Believe” in this scene recalls earlier happiness and looks wistfully toward a future reconciliation. For her part Ms. Brown’s portrayal of Magnolia as an independent performer after having been left by Ravenal was achieved with both vocal and dramatic skill. Her voice matured noticeably as she sang “After the Ball,” and sheer confidence could only describe her solo appearance in a Ziegfield show in New York. Since Queenie had attended these latter performances, she repeats one of Nola’s popular numbers back on the show boat. Ms. Simpson sings “Hey Feller!” with gusto and decided glee in her committed enthusiasm. The final reunion of Magnolia, Ravenal, and their daughter takes place, appropriately, where the romance began with the hope of a transformed future.

Salvatore Calomino


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